The Ongoing Shame of Cultural Tyranny

Ghost Adventures, on The Travel Channel, Fails At Creating Bridges

Reality, or faux-reality, shows are simply not really my idea of a good time, but I was excited to see the episode “Skinwalker Canyon” which aired on Saturday, June 17.  Not only was the show going to broach the taboo Navajo legend, but it was filmed ‘on-location’ from the Navajo Nation.  Zak Bagans, the host of Ghost Adventures, gave an interview, days before the show aired which gave me some hope that a mainstream, non-Native source would be able to deal with Native topics in a way that was sincere and respectful.  The full article is available here.  When told that Native people’s sometimes fear their stories being told by outsiders, Zak answers:

“I understand. While we were there, that is who we worked with. That is who we heard from, the Navajo people. We even got invited to a Navajo warrior ceremony by a medicine woman before we stepped foot into the canyon.  We were honored to be a part of that and I respect all Native Americans and I respect that they were here before us. I am not here to say anything against that. I support them and I look up to them.”

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Within minutes of the show starting, I knew my excitement had been misplaced.  Quickly the production adopts a Blair Witch style approach, and not long after the above mentioned “warrior ceremony” devolves into a ridiculous parody of Young Guns, I knew the show was not even going to get close to the reverence or dignity required to cover such a controversial topic.

The Fine Line of Traversing Cultural Divides

As a gringo trying to write, research, and learn about Native topics, every time Outsiders (Non-Natives / Non-Tribal Members) try to cover sensitive topics and do so badly, it makes what I am trying to do exponentially more difficult.  It is because of shows like this episode of Ghost Adventures, movies like Skinwalkers on Amazon, or novels like Skinwalkers by Tony Hillerman, that the cultural necessity of a film like The Red Hogaan, by Kody Dayish, is so immediate.

Since meeting Kody while researching my own Skinwalker story, as relayed in Ashes & Ghosts, we have had several interesting conversations about the irony that brought us into working together was over an incredibly taboo and sacred topic.  The interesting thing, is that it is taboo for each of us, but for different reasons.  As I relayed at length and in great detail in A Quest of Vision, Kody went to great lengths to gain permission from the Navajo Nation to film The Red Hogaan.  He knew that he was dealing with an incredibly sacred topic, but he also knew that it was time to for the Dine’ to own their own myths, or less reverent, less careful outsiders would steal them.  Zak Bagans is the most recent in a long line of Outsiders who have chosen to try to walk the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation – and failed.

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VIEW TRAILER #2 HERE

So, what exactly is cultural appropriation?

Folks, I am a writer, and I was a long time teacher.  I would like to think that the two, at least in some ways go hand in hand, therefore, it is with Danielle S. McLaughlin, Director of Education Ermerita, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, whom I agree on the appropriate lens through which to examine the issue.  What is Appropriate and What is Cultural Appropriation takes a deep look at the concepts of teaching { i.e. relaying information for analysis and digestion} being sensitive to cultural perspectives, as Dir. McLaughlin illustrates:

“If an English teacher wants to assign his class Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” but can only discuss the book from his own non-Indigenous point of view, should he do it? Should he single-out the indigenous students in the class as spokespeople for the First Nations’ point of view? What if they don’t want to share their ideas? Is this assignment culturally sensitive or is it cultural appropriation?”

I have done this.  I have been this teacher.  I absolutely see the point, and I can see how difficult this line gets to define.  So I read just a paragraph further, and McLaughlin provides some hope:

“Our children need to learn about one another and about the world, even when the world is a difficult place. We need creative, thoughtful and kind people who are willing to take risks to teach all our children. Please don’t be afraid to engage them. They need you.”

This is what separates Outsiders like Zak Bagans and myself.  Within a day, just one Facebook site of which I am a member, Rezzy Ghost Stories, exploded with negativity over the Skinwalker Canyon episode.  “Just out to make a buck” one user said.  I would place my work firmly with Director McLaughlin.  I am a teacher.  The context of my writing is to create cultural bridges.  The context of Ghost Adventures tore them down, all over the Navajo Nation, within minutes.

 

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This is the legacy we, as Outsiders, have taught.  This is the legacy we, as Outsiders, deserve.  It is only by our actions that we can prove that our hearts lie in different places from the violent past…. but, as is true with many things, one negative lands with a much heavier blow than ten silent positives.  The fact that people still feel that they can violate these sacred legends, for the sake of a badly researched, comically ridiculous, show on cable television proves that the shame of cultural domination is still with us.

{I Don’t Konform are a Navajo metal band from the Navajo Nation.  Follow them on Facebook and on ReverbNation, and look for my feature article with the band coming this August !!!!}

The Journey Begins – The Meditation of AZ Native Research Tour 2

This concept of cultural appropriation has been on my mind, and it ought to be, as I have driven the by-ways of Arizona searching for mysteries and supernatural legends from the past.  I am a writer.  I plan on selling my books.  I am white.  I asked myself at one point, if I was making too much of the racial issue.  Kody has not mentioned it hardly at all, in fact, if race has come up, I have brought it up.  This meditation does not have easy answers, but as I set out in mid-June along the path of General Crook and the Apache Wars of South Eastern Arizona, I am plagued by a related and equally perplexing thought:

“Politicians in Washington, D.C., knew little about differences in tribal cultures, customs, and language. Politicians also ignored political differences and military alliances and tried to apply a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to deal with the “Indian problem – Martha Glauthier 2007″

It all comes down to context.  During the Apache Wars, the United States Government did not want to appreciate or appropriate; they wanted to eradicate.  But they were capable of doing so, of dehumanizing other human beings, because of a sense of power, entitlement and superiority over them.  Is not thinking of one culture’s sacred beliefs as less valid or important as your own a step, or six, down this slippery slope?  Perhaps Zak Bagans should ask himself that question – after he pulls his foot from his mouth from insinuating that a Navajo holy woman drugged him without his permission.

 

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My purpose on this tour, was to try to immerse myself in this history of conflict and tyranny, and in so doing try to come to terms with my own place as a gringo, a white boy, an Outsider… in the world of Native American story telling.  I wanted to use the visions of history, the closeness of its ghosts, and the echoes of its hostility as a way to try to discuss why these actions from long ago, still matter, and still affect people in a very real way.

Fort Verde, General Crook, and Policing the Arizona Frontier

Fort Verde was a large military operation nearly in the middle of the state.  The Army used the fort’s defensive position to protect and defend the settlers moving into the Arizona territory in the mid 1800s.  Starting here, General Crook created his route that connected this Fort Verde to Fort Apache in the White Mountains.  It should be noted:

“U.S. Army officers were given little or no training in the languages and customs of American Indians. Few had any empathy for native people whose way of life and very survival were threatened by the American’s massive migration to, and occupation of, the West – ( www.southernarizonaguide.com }”

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Arizona has more square miles of Native lands than any other state in the United States.  The map at left shows the original holdings of Arizona tribes.  Try to keep in mind: {Outsiders} – each of these places are sovereign nations; each of these tribes speak different languages; each of these tribes have differing alliances and enemies; each of these tribes have children, parents, and grandchildren, homes, and memories; each of these tribal areas no longer exists without a daily reminder that not only was the land stolen, but in many cases, all of the history and family memories as well.  It is a harrowing reality, and one that many gringos like myself don’t like to acknowledge, but failure to do so is to hide from the reality of history, and to not learn from history – as we have seen very often of late – is to be doomed to repeat it.

 

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Apache Scouts – “It Takes an Apache to Catch an Apache”

As the wars to the south with the Apaches are proving much  more frustrating than previously thought, and Apache leaders like Cochise and Geronimo are complicating United States efforts to maintain newly formed Reservations, General Crook enlists a “it takes an Apache to catch an Apache” attitude, and recruits fifty White Mountain Apache men to serve as Scouts in the United States Army.

It is decisions like these, and many others made by leaders within the United States Government, that proved a total and utter lack of cultural intelligence when dealing with vast numbers of Native peoples.  Yes, it is true, and widely accepted that General Crook was a “friend” to Natives – not because he didn’t do bad, but because he tried to do some good {especially in terms of the living conditions on the San Carlos Reservation; and the fact that The White Mountain Apache are believed to have maintained so much of their ancestral homeland within their Reservation because of their alliance with Fort Apache and General Crook}, but one analogy to modern day makes this very clear.

You have vast geography, controlled by different clans, some of whom practice separate religions, some of whom are at war, some of whom are allies.  This entire area has its own politics.  Arizona is like The Middle East if the Crusades had won.

 

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The Fort Grant & Skeleton Cave Massacres

Two tragic examples of this lack of cultural understanding in terms of tribal conflicts came in the year of 1871-72.  The Apache War was still raging to the South as Lt. Cushing was relentlessly pursuing Cochise, and two of the most heinous acts of the Apache Wars are orchestrated by rival groups of Natives allied with Outsider invaders.  In 1871, a band of Tohono O’odham, and settlers from Tucson, marched up Aravaipa canyon and slaughtered hundreds of Aravaipa Apache.  The forced treaty at the end of this conflict directly led to the creation of San Carlos Reservation.  Then, in 1872, at the height of the Yavapai Wars {not to be confused with the Apache Wars, as they are distinctly different in terms of geography} General Crook and a band of Apache Scouts opened fire on a group of Yavapai men, women, and children who had taken refuge in a shallow cave  on the wall of what is now Apache Lake (just below Roosevelt).  The shooting did not stop until every Yavapai in the cave was dead, and their remains were left to the elements, with no ceremony or burial, until they were discovered by the Arizona Geographical Survey over 50 years later.

The World’s First Concentration Camp

 

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As the smoke began to clear up North (both the Yavapai Wars and Tonto Basin Campaign were over), it became a major focus of the United States to consolidate all Apache bands onto the desolate San Carlos Reservation.  San Carlos was a place nobody wanted, in was known as Hell’s Forty Acres.  The San Carlos Tribal Website refers to it as, “The World’s First Concentration Camp“.  This has a major effect on the peace agreement that had been reached between Cochise and General Howard the same year as the Skeleton Cave Massacre (1871):

“Without consulting the Indians, the U.S. government breaks the Cochise – Howard peace agreement by closing the Chiricahua Reservation in October and forcibly moving his people to the San Carlos Reservation where inadequate food supply, exposure to the elements, and malaria will decimate their population. About half comply. Led by Geronimo, the rest escape to Mexico. Both decisions will have lasting and devastating consequences for the Chiricahuas – (www.southernarizonaguide.com).”

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I am not an historian, nor do I really want to be.  The point of my tours is to get closer to the history that I have grown up around than I have ever been, and apply that research to making the absolute best book of tales that give back to these cultures and try to provide links to understanding and curiosity.  It is a noble goal, and it is one that is not linked at all to what we see these continuous dark examples linked to.

Why Doesn’t It End…. Why Does It Simply…. Continue?

What is the common element of these conflicts?  What is the common element of the tensions caused by the creation of San Carlos and the forced combination of rival tribal groups?  What is the common element in the attitudes expressed in popular culture when dealing with Native topics?  Like I discussed with Noah Nez, White Mountain Apache, back in my article Ashes & Ghosts, why don’t “people think of Native religions the same as other religions”?

 

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{Apache Pass}

The common element to all of this awful, tragic, loss of life, loss of respect, and cultural collapse is the lack of cultural intelligence.  It is the lack of cultural curiosity.  It is the inability to understand that other people in this world believe, love, and feel in all ways just as much, just as real, and just as validly as you do.  It is the entitled sense that you are at the center of your given universe while simultaneously denying that same entitlement to those who share the world with you.  It is a hegemonic devil.

This creates an environment where trust finds little purchase.  This creates a system of divisions and exclusions, rather than clasped hands of understanding and appreciation.  If at any point, the “oh, their land again” thought even showed up… then you should have zero problem understanding the issue.  Soon, the differences between appreciating a people, appreciating a history, appreciating a dignity and a pride…. are very obvious from appropriating them.

 

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{Fort Bowie 1862-1886}

Is it any wonder that Geronimo fought so long and so hard?  Is it any wonder that he didn’t want to leave the lush land of his birth to inhabit an arid place nobody wanted to live?  I often wondered, on this ride (twelve hours of history, heat, and solitary atonement) what it would be like to be a subjugated people.  What would it feel like to be a conquered people?  A beaten man, or a beaten parent?  I think most of us understand that feeling of powerlessness and loss, but I don’t think very many of us have ever stopped to imagine what that powerlessness would be like…. if it was total.

 

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We would fight.  We would rage.  We would break out.

or

We would be beaten.  We would surrender.  We would be enslaved.

are we really that different?

Thus were the Apache Wars.  Hundreds of Apaches, Mexicans, and White Americans lived in misery and fear and died violently because of incredibly ignorant decisions and the laziness to even want to learn about them.  Refusing to acknowledge the basic equality of others: their history, their tragedy, their joy, their myths, and their humanity – their basic right to be valid, to not be a joke – is the cement wall of cultural division.

Honest. Curious. Respectful. Education…. will knock it down.

Keep the Greasy Side Down my Friends.

 

 

DL Marble & C A S A Music Group

The Relentless Pursuit of Being Almost Famous

I was sitting with my wife in Tempe Tavern listening to DL Marble play for the first time. We had come because the Tavern is a great place to hang: it has great food, great music, and the price is right – plus, my wife may have a teenie, little crush on Marc Norman. Anyway, so we are sitting watching these guys play this carousel of an alternative, outlaw country show weaving DL, Marc, and Steve Larson into and out of vocal sets and guitar parts, and I am listening to DL give an intro to “Drag Me Back” about being drained of money, paying child support, and hearing Roger Clyne on the radio and writing a song. It was a good story, and certainly one that resonated in my own experience, but it instantly made my mind make interesting leaps – as is often likely to happen in my particular case.

Some years ago, I was really digging on a lot of what the Austin, Texas band Blue October was releasing. Some radio hits had put the band on the national road map, and commercial success had obviously giving Furstenfeld some clout – which he answered with the heartfelt, painfully tragic, “Any Man in America”. The album explores, in some songs such as the uptempo, hip-hop inspired, title track, much more raw that others, the pain a father suffers from losing his children in a court system that favors women a vast percentage of the time.

Fatherhood/ marriage leads to alimony and child-support, and in many ways, Furstenfeld’s album voices deep concerns and frustrations many fathers in America feel. Blue October has a certain audience, and the album was their least successful to date. I loved it, and felt that it was much more raw, real, and progressive than their previous releases, but the masses of younger generation, mostly childless fans, did not get the message.

Juxtapose this with the general demographic of just about any country music show. If a guitar picking, outlaw poet, strumming in a bar avoids songs about pain, loss, and the scorn of love, that poet would be out of a job. Certainly, raising this question, immediately leads to cliches about country music played backwards, getting your dogs, women, and trucks back, and redneck honky tonks. However, that does not make it an invalid question.

The deeper understanding here is one of audience. Pop music, as defined as “popular” music so as to be more accurately all-encompassing, deals, at least in broad strokes, with a certain sense of escapism. Heavily dramatic acts in the world of music have shown this across genres: Eminem, KISS, Marilyn Manson, Public Enemy, Ozzy Ozborne, Ghost, and a host of others have all been very successful at portraying, and or using, characters and over-the-top theatrics to exaggerate a sense of disconnect from reality, a place where certain questions can be asked, certain indulgences can be openly acknowledged, and people like Marshall Mathers can come out to play.

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But to say their fans are going to immediately run out and become Satanists, shoot up their schools, bite the heads off of bats, or try to copycat fictitious role models is to say that music is the cause of most of all of these social ills. That is certainly not the case, nor the argument that I am presenting.

Whereas country poets, like DL Marble, embellish and hope to create an understanding and kinship with their audience through the reality of their music. “I feel everything”, he said to me as we drank beer at the bar listening to Darci Carlson play a raucous show at Chopper Johns in Phoenix. “I feel the conversation in the next booth. And then I write a song about it. I feel too much, and I want you to know it. I want the audience to feel it too.” This sense of commitment to audience, this desire to connect to the world in a way that resonates with real people, creates a place where a guitar-man brings people into his world, and shows them that he feels what they feel, and is trying to express it the best way that he can.

Both forms of entertainment are awesome, and DO NOT get me wrong; I am a proud holder of Iron Maiden and Metallica tickets and I am beyond stoked! However, I also do not in any way expect to sit and have a beer with those guys and talk about life. That is what I am trying to describe, and it is that pulse of humanity that country music attempts to understand. When it is done badly, well…. every pop-county song on the radio tells that story, but when it it is done well it will make you feel just a bit less alone on a road that is really damn hard in a world that can be too damn big.

As the discussion turned towards popular country music, I mentioned how interpreting where real country was happening was an interesting discussion. Willie Nelson left Nashville, finding that Austin, Texas was the place for the singer/ song-writer guitar-man more-so than a place designed to pair the best singers with the best songs and the best musicians. One was designed to create hits; the other was designed to inspire poetry. “And Waylon Jennings and Marty Robbins both chose to close out their days and be buried in Arizona. Why?”

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“You tell me”, I countered. “What makes Arizona country different from that of Texas or Tennessee?”

“We are the last outlaws. Arizona is the last “real west”. DL downed the last of his beer, “Arizona still has outlaw gangster status.  It’s like Arizona was still holding out and shooting out the OK Corral when the other western states were trying to clean up and be civilized.  It’s in our blood; it’s an native Arizonan kind of thing.  When it comes down to it, I feel that Arizona country is just more about real life: less from the studio, more from the wild wide open.”

I think I have a sense of what DL was trying to say. He and I have one other thing in common; we are both native Arizonans. Arizona is a place that defies just about everything. Living in this heat alone defies reason. There is still a sense of that Old West in Arizona, there are still places like Crown King, and The Blue, and the vast expanse and mystery of The Grand Canyon.  Hell, for folks that don’t do it often, The Salt River Canyon can take a few years off of anybody who has shallow nerves.

Living in a place that is inhabited by so many people from so many other places, it is easy to see Arizona being able to maintain its mystique. Those who have lived here, worked here, sweat here, and played here long enough to know many of its hidden gems, are few, and most others in a transient population have no idea at all the depth of history lurking all around them. In that sense, Arizona is a truly outlaw land, with an outlaw outlook on life, an outlaw outlook on authority, a sense of outlaw ownership of its legends, and a deep running thread of outlaw in its music.

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One of the things that does immediately come to mind, sitting in a room, talking, drinking beer, and laughing with the Casa Music Group guys, is that in many ways you are in the presence of outlaw Arizona music royalty. When one thinks back on the explosion the Tempe music scene back in the mid 1990s, many of the men in this room were there, among the early rabble rousers. DL has surrounded himself with a group of trusted friends, that go back twenty five years, and share among themselves a collective history of a different time. Members of Dead Hot Workshop, The Pistoleros, the enigmatic Marc Norman, and several other icons of Tempe are represented in this close circle. The question was bound to come up, but sometimes talking about the local success story creates an interesting tension.

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“What is it like, living, working, creating music, in what in many ways must seem like the shadow of Roger Clyne?” A hush fell over the few of us, like I had traversed across some invisible line that was better left undefined. It should be noted here, that talking about Roger Clyne in 2017 is very different than talking about him 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, The Refreshments were walking away from Mercury Records, and Roger was getting ready to go 100% Independent. It was a very gutsy and risky move, and for myself, as an aspiring artist, Roger became the number one example of an entrepreneur that got it right. And here we are , twenty years later, and Roger is still not having anybody else sign his paycheck. It is inspiring; especially when one comes from an outlaw state, like Arizona. True independence is an ideal very few people attain. How does one have a music conversation with these guys at all, and not have that come up?

What came out were two very different, but related answers, at two different venues. At Tempe Tavern, Marc Norman was sitting across the table from Steve Larson, and he nodded to the stellar Johnny Cash impersonator, “I think it was Steve that said this to me years ago,” Marc began. “The best place in the world to be is Almost Famous. Obviously you don’t want to be down here,” he motioned as low as he could reach from his bar-height chair, “but if you are all the way at the top, the only way to go is down. Nah, right at the cusp, right there, but just not quite…. an artist can ride that for twenty years.”

Ghetto Cowgirl

Featuring the antics of Marc Norman and remnants of The Pistoleros, and Dead Hot Workshop, this band is a true Tempe original!

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Visit Ghetto Cowgirl on FACEBOOK HERE !!!!

Visit Ghetto Cowgirl on REVERBNation HERE !!!!

Later, at Chopper John’s, I asked DL, “So what is being indie now?” I have really been throwing that question all over in my mind, really ever since the Wyves article. The music industry has changed, and changed almost completely in a very short amount of time. Honestly, I wondered if Roger Clyne would even be able to do it, walk away from a record contract and completely make it, as an independent. I often ask myself the same question. When I wrote my book Grave Whispers and it was released with Black Bed Sheet Books, small, yes, but a publication company all the same, I thought that I had arrived. I thought all I had to do was show up and start signing autographs.

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Obviously that is not how it works, and to cut a long story short, I am back in the writing ring, but this time I am the captain of my own ship, hoping to navigate those oceans of independence. If all of a sudden Arizona Central or Arizona Highways called and wanted one of my articles, would I say, “No. No thanks. I am indie?” I am not sure, really. What would Roger do? So in that respect, that was the root of my question to DL Marble. “Is Indie even a thing, in itself, or is it just the label people give themselves while they are waiting for a label?”

“Nobody is independent. Everybody is beholden to somebody. Being independent is not worrying about the future.”

“So what is the role of Casa Music Group?”

CASAmg “Casa is me. Me and Paulie.  When I left Dirtbag Records, after my first record, I met Paul Williams.  Paul was the bassist in a heavier rock band also signed to Dirtbag, and it was he that first informed me that Dirtbag was cutting ties with many of the bands.  Paul, who is one hell of a bass player and plays on a variety of different instruments, including a small, ukulele style bass, which was Sick! has been an Angry Seahorse ever since, and along with Matt Rupnow and a somewhat revolving ‘drummer’, DL and the boys set out to reconfigure themselves as an Independent band under Casa.  Later, back in Arizona, Marc Norman and Ruppy were brought on, and rounded out the ‘house’ at CASA music.

“If a larger label is interested in me, Casa comes with it. If the money wants me to be Eric Church… I can be Eric Church, but I am going to play my songs. I am going to play a few Ray Wylie Hubbard Songs. I am going to play a Roger Clyne song. There are no sell outs; I have kids. Nobody is going to walk away from a paycheck, it is a matter of how you hold on to who you are when you are taking that paycheck. That is independence.”

I could not argue. I am forty-three years old. I work harder, physically, at Costco, than I really ever thought I would have to by this age in my life. I pursued college, I attained degrees, but life happens, and we roll with those punches, and we try to keep the greasy side down. Now, however, now I am a middle aged man, hanging out in bars, watching more concerts than I watched in my twenties, and in general really just having a hell of a great time. When I talk about what I am doing to my friends at work, they usually ask two questions: first, “how much money are you making?” To which I laugh and say, nothing, not yet. To which they follow up, “well, are you just having a midlife crisis?”

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I laughed. A lot. Out loud. But those are not bad questions, and now, sitting there with DL Marble, thinking back on my other music articles, and thinking about my own writing dreams, I was deeply and fondly reminded of one of my all time favorite stories to teach. In Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, an older brother: a teacher, a father, a military man, is talking to his younger brother, who is a recovering heroin addict and musician. The older brother asks:

“Doesn’t all this take a lot of time? Can you make a living at it?” He turned back to me and half leaned, half sat, on the kitchen table. “Everything takes time,” he said, “and—well, yes, sure, I can make a living at it. But what I don’t seem to be able to make you understand is that it’s the only thing I want to do.” “Well, Sonny,” I said gently, “you know people can’t always do exactly what they want to do—” “No, I don’t know that,” said Sonny, surprising me. “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?” “You getting to be a big boy,” I said desperately, “it’s time you started thinking about your future.” “I’m thinking about my future,” said Sonny, grimly. “I think about it all the time.” – JAMES BALDWIN

This is really the only answer. DL Marble is an artist. He is a father. He is a hard working, Arizona outlaw. He is doing exactly what he wants to do with his life, pursuing something from within himself that fuels him with a desire to put something back into the world. So am I. I am a writer. I am a father. I am a hard working Arizona outlaw who just wants his passion to be contagious. There is no midlife crisis. It is all about the need to create. It is all about the need to put something back into the world, and that desire does not have an age limit. We are thinking about our futures; we are thinking about them all of the time.

Finally, in the end, I told DL, “I have one final question. One other small insight that I am curious about. We lost Chris Cornell this month, much has been said about Eddie Vedder really being the last of the grunge icons left… all the rest are dead, and all by suicide. That forces some hard pondering. I am curious as to what your answer to The Poet’s Curse is?” I then went on to explain my nerdy fascination with Hamlet, and the idea that poet’s are cursed to feel the world in a way that most don’t, that is how they are able to create what they do, but it also opens them up to very dark things.

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“I feel everything. I feel the conversation in the next booth. And then I write a song about it. I feel too much, and I want you to know it. I want the audience to feel it too. The problem is that we feel it, and we want you to understand how much were laying down up there. I bleed for you up there. I come down, and need a drink, need a smoke, people want to talk immediately and sometimes they don’t understand that I just can’t. I left part of myself up there on that stage, and I need a minute.” It is a hard thing to describe, many might see the world of the rock star as glamorous and full of friends, but history shows that there is much darkness and many shadows. Perhaps it was said best, by another Arizona legend, as he sings about knowing the difference between a gun to finalize everything, or another drink might make everything just ok enough. DL Marble should cover Stephen Ashbrook’s Scotch and a Handgun, and dedicate it to all those who got lost in the black.

I guess, really, the nature of music itself is of an outlaw nature. Music as a convention has always bucked the system, thwarted the establishment, and progressively marched towards change. It is a rogue enterprise, but some people fit that outlaw roll better than others. In the end it is about connection. Connection to your audience. Connection to your home. Connection to your own pulse, feelings and limitations. Connections to your own sense of self and identity. In the end is about how honest we are, in the way we project the person that we want others to see and the person we know looks back at us in the mirror. In the end it is about allowing ones self to be vulnerable, publicly, and having the balls to do it again. In the end it is about being real, and being true…. to the world and to yourself….. and staying the course long enough to have that outlaw passion…. pull itself from a bottle of Mexican Moonshine and become the stuff of legends.

 

My Home is in Jerome

Can a Sense of Inclusion be Fostered in a Tourism State?

What do you say about Jerome that can’t just be googled and read about in a hundred different articles? What does one person, who doesn’t even live there, possibly have to offer?

As long as we are at it: how does one prove the authenticity of their motivations of anything?

Lots of writers, better historians than I,  have posted some great articles about Jerome, Arizona.  I am not going to repeat them here, but by all means take the time to peruse a few!

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The Haunted Hamburger is LEGIT

Jerome, AZ Home Page

Whores, Miners, and the Mentally Insane: The Haunted Arizona Town

Arizona Vacation Guide

Jerome Bars & Wineries

Top Ten Things to do in Jerome, AZ  2017

I cannot speak to Jerome’s ghosts: not in fact, as I have never seen any (although I desperately want to).  I cannot lecture on the history, nor specifics, of the mine: as I am not as expert.  I cannot claim to really, personally know any one person in town.  But, what I can tell you of, that is simply unique to me, is that Jerome, Arizona is my Muse.

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What makes a place, a specific, unique, personal place – magical? What gives it this power over us, allowing it to captivate our souls and imaginations? I am not talking about a mere weekend getaway where you flee from the heat to an overly populated place, try to relax, and then run home.  (Huge lines of lights coming down the Mogollon Rim on a Sunday come to mind; and in my case that means a sore, arthritic clutch hand.

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If that’s your gig, more power to you, but I am speaking to that spiritual core inside you. I am speaking to that place in your soul that ignites when you get there, when you feel your battery recharge. That place is supposed to be home, and if it truly is, you are blessed.  But if this is the litmus test to what home is, then, in that case, my home is in Jerome.

Years ago, Spirits of Jerome began as a novel about one particular ghost’s journey in the Netherworld.  However, as tends to be the case, life happened, and by the time I picked up the story again, much had changed.  During that period of time, my wanderings took me back to Jerome, time and time again.  Various locations around town started to weave stories in my mind; various stories about the town started to fill in colors of its locations.  Jerome became a place with a rich and shadowy history, and one that could completely chase writer’s block away if I would go, spend time, soak it in… and commune.

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On one such excursion several years ago now, I stopped in at Aurum Jewelry.  I was wanting a specific engagement ring for my wife.  The owner said no problem, and he had the yellow gold ring, inlaid with purple sugilite and clasping a white sapphire done for me by Christmas Eve.  Both her and I were without our kids that year, and a Christmas getaway to a haunted town was exactly …. well, it was perfect.   I popped the question at the Asylum Restaurant, where the table cloths were butcher paper and they served our menu with crayons.  We drank from wine tasting glasses that were too perfect not to buy.  You can say Jerome has had its clutches into us since the beginning of us being… an us.

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Over the years since, Jerome has continued to be our home away from home, and we find ourselves going there as often as time allows.  On Ghost, it is a great day trip from my home in Mesa, taking me just under three hours to get there – depending on traffic.  I soon discovered that a Blues/ Rock guitar-man named Dog of the Moon, played at the Spirit Room every Friday.  Many a Friday was spent plugged in next to the jukebox, visiting with the spirits, listening to Moondog.  What was even better, he played early, giving us day-trippers a chance to melt back down the hill into the drudgery of normalcy.

20161019_083830It was during these trips, that the stories that would eventually weave together to form the book, took place, and about 85% of it was written in the Spirit Room on warm afternoons with my notebook, a laptop, and a beer or three.  The rest of the book was written at the concrete table at the top of the steps underneath the proof that some people still believe in Headless Charlie.

I watched people, I listened to people, I dropped eaves on conversations and took copious notes.  I spoke to very few.  I wasn’t interested in the lore of the shop keepers or the ghost tours that walk through town almost on a daily basis now.  I was interested in listening to the conversations of locals that know which step is okay to bring your own beer to and pass an evening completely, and legally, drunk in public.  These are the people that will give you the real pulse of a place.

I dared to start feeling like a local, well, no not a local, but perhaps a common site.  Ghost was often parked in front of the Spirit Room, and I was often seen in either of my two favorite places.  I dared to start feeling like… I belonged in Jerome.  Like the spirits had parted the veil, just a little bit, and said, “Sure, this one is okay.  We like his company.”

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And then I handed out some business cards one day; and a stark and vivid truth, that I as an Arizona native resident I have always known, but had dared to forget, or hope did not apply, came rushing back  to salience.  For a state heavily dependent on tourism and exploration, we are not the most inviting of guests.

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For seven years, I lived and taught in Pinetop, Arizona.  I waited in anticipation for the Spring, so that I could hit the lakes, or start training sled dogs (I ran a pretty cool Alaskan Malamute Kennel for a while), or go for mountain bike rides in the woods.  And so did the entirety of the lowlands.  The place would be crawling with tourists.  The campsites would be loaded.  The lakes and streams would be full.  The one highway through town would be a steady influx of toy haulers and RVs.  Off road contraptions would be racing all over the forest roads making dog training on a wheeled chariot, careening through the trees, impossible.  I have to be honest; I hated it.

So here is the hypocrisy right?  Pinetop is a tourism town: requiring tourists to come and spend their money for the local economy to properly function.  Courting those visitors is a huge priority for the town, as it is the lifeblood of their very existence.  This is the story of most of rural Arizona.  We are a destination state.  We are a retirement state.  We are a state made up of a steady and rotating influx of people from other places.

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It makes sense, when one really looks at the reality of the situation with a sense of subjective observation, why residents in Arizona develop such a sense of ownership of their community.  The local man that I handed my card to in Jerome that day saw one word, “ghost”, and immediately handed it back.

“It’s all bullshit,” he said.  “It’s all a bunch of huey they made up back when the town was trying to come back from the dead.  People dressed up in costumes and staged photos right here in the middle of the street.”

Ironically, the local Ghost Tours van drove by, and the gentleman pointed as they drove by.  “Now we got every asshole in the universe trying to make a buck on it.  It’s all bullshit.”

Now, do not judge.  Stop, and think.  Jerome, Arizona averages approximately 1.5 million visitors a year.  It is known as one of the most haunted towns in America.  The town has been featured on Ghost Adventures, most recently, and Sightings, back in the day.  It also thrives off of … what I call Speculation.

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The Jerome Grand Hotel offers several exclusive nights a year to ghost hunters, world wide.  Its “haunted history” was the focus of the Travel Channel Ghost Adventures program.  As previously mentioned, Tours of Jerome exists in town to provide tours through the stories and legends of the town.  Both walking and driving tours are provided.

My time in Pinetop came sharply into focus now as I listened to the elderly resident from Jerome.  I could see him having to chase people off his property every night.  I could see him struggling to sleep with the constant barking of dogs.  I could see him not being able to assume, whatsoever, that common decency still existed.  He saw too often, too much evidence to the contrary.  So had I.  Every weekend, all summer, all the time.

Thesis?  We need to be better tourists.  Somewhere along the line in our overly-convoluted world, our collective sense of entitlements overcame our dying sense of decency.  I had a very awesome student, years ago, who wrote an award winning Oratory that was phrased as an Obituary to Common Sense.  It was brilliant, and prophetic in many ways… unfortunately.

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It was fitting that the day after my wife and I went up the hill to do the photo shoot for Spirits of Jerome, a different past student of mine posted a picture of herself with an electric device hunting ghosts in Jerome.  It was hillariously perfect!  Megan assured me that she was being courteous and staying off of private property.  But it brings up a point…

Have our entitlements overtaken our inherent ability to be kind?  Think of the various ways we allow our supposed “rights” to encroach on the given rights of our fellow inhabitants of this spinning ball of confusion.  I am not going to list them here, they are many, but as Tolkien said:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

God I love Tolkien!  And his quote is not only perfectly fitting to the motive behind my book, but it is also applicable here.  We can all see examples all around us where people have simply stopped valuing, in any real, daily, measurable sense, the social contract.  Definition:

“In both moral and political philosophy, the social contract or political contract is a theory or model, originating during the Age of Enlightenment, that typically addresses the questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual.[1] Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.” – Wikipedia (not always legit; not always wrong – know your sources!)

My intention as a writer is to explore this state.  I am blessed to be able to do so in a way that very few others can: from the seat of a rumbling machine, cruising through the environs of my homeland with absolutely zero distractions.

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My steed of choice is a 2016 Indian 911 Dark Horse Chief: I call her Ghost.  I am the Ghost Writer, and I wrote a new book, it is called Spirits of Jerome.  It is a book of speculative short stories that entwine to tell a version of the tale of a mystical place.  I have meant it in all ways as a tribute to the town that has captivated my soul, and where if there is any order in the great universe, I will end up residing as soon as humanly possible.  Spirits of Jerome will be released this October in select brick and mortar establishments, down in The Bone Hoard, and world wide on the Inter Webs.

41rY7-1pNeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_My friend Ken Lamberton, author of Chasing Arizona, and a man who intimately explores our state, has written the first review of the book.

“With {a} flare for the lyrical, Ryan B. Clark probes {deep} question{s} in Spirits of Jerome, giving readers astonishing insights into the other side, the dark places that come after the grave. This is where the dead philosophize while searching for what it might mean to breathe again. “Nothing lasting was ever created in safety,” Clark says, purposely blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Reading story after stunning story, you’ll start to believe it’s all true.”

Click the image for a link to amazon.  Lamberton writes with a familiarity that comes off the page like an old friend telling you new secrets of places you thought you knew.  Chasing Arizona is a MUST read for Arizona enthusiasts!

My long time friend, and idol, Stephen Ashbrook, Arizona music legend, has written a forward to the book.  Stephen has been inspiring me for over twenty years, and I am profoundly humbled that an artist like him saw something in my work to endorse.  Give the legend a listen as you read the rest of the article…. you won’t regret it.

“Music has taken me all over the country and across oceans, and almost every small town and small town hotel claims to be haunted. But this small town was different. Every traveler loves a good ghost story. Something here was alive, or dead rather, and still with us. Its story ran deeper than just any ghostly tale. Something here pulled at us to surrender and let it in.” – Stephen Ashbrook from his forward to Spirits of Jerome

 Our purpose is to show what Jerome has meant in our lives.  Our purpose here is to share that journey with anyone in the world whose heart resonates with that iron string.  It is a matter of awe, and it is a matter of respect.  It is not a matter of assimilation.

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My book releases at the Spirit Room on September 29th as part of the Dog of the Moon show.  Click the jump for event information.

In the meantime, it is my responsibility to earn the right to be there, among the ghosts, among the living, in Jerome, Arizona.

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And stay here… my personal favorite is the Lariat & Lace

 

Keep it Scary my friends!

Refuting Forbes, Courting Millenials, and Sticking it to the Man

A Conversation with Wyves

Seamus McCaffery’s in Downtown Phoenix may be one of my favorite bars in town.  It has this great Departed-esque vibe with all of the patches of law enforcement officials lining the upper shelf behind the bar.  The place feels Irish .  The mood is sombre, the lighting is low, the wood is dark, and you can almost forget – just for a second – that you are in the Valley of the Sun.  It feels like a couple of Hooligans could be at a back table drinking Jameson, Mick police officers could be lining the bar drinking Guiness, and Corey Gloden could be jamming an acoustic guitar and helping your Black Orchard (spin on a Snake Bite with Angry Orchard Cider and a Stout float ) go down easy.  I walked in late on a Thursday night, and Corey called out to me after his current song, “Hey Ryan!” and busted in to Bitch Has Got Problems.  It was going to be a good night.

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In order to lock down Wyves, one has to be prepared to surf through the schedules of four very busy men.  Corey plays acoustic gigs around town four or five nights a week (to say nothing of his side project Dry River Yaught Club), Brenden teaches music: Guitar, Ukulele, Piano, and Drums (also to say nothing of his side project Treasurefruit) , Evan plays side project gigs for Sponsored Cover Bands, and Nick Sterling is a full time dad during the day, a columnist for Modern Guitars Magazine, and plays night gigs with Corey from time to time.  Luckily, going to a bar to listen to a gig, have a few beers, and wait for other members of the band to come in shifts for our conversation sounded like a perfect way to spend an evening!

On May 3rd of this year, Ross Gerber, contributor to Forbes Magazine, released an article entitled How the Music Industry is Putting Itself Out of Business.  If you choose,  read the article while listening to the above song and realize something is definitely not right in Denmark.  Gerber, after beginning the article proclaiming facts without giving one example of a “mid-range” band, would have readers believe that:

“Times have changed.  Besides a handful of superstars, it’s impossible for bands and musicians to generate significant revenue taking the approach of putting out a record, selling a couple thousand copies and then going on tour to promote it.  And the reason is simple: because of streaming services consumers won’t pay much for music.”

Gerber’s thesis is simple: album sales are necessary for a band to achieve super-stardom, and because of music streaming, less albums are being sold.  Therefore, the music industry is dead.  He continues by projecting the assumption that these steaming services, jump-started by Napster {oh Lars Ulrich, there you are!} back in the 90s, “produc[ed] a generation of listeners who didn’t value music because they were able to download it for free.”  Gerber perpetuates this assumption by following it up with, “Another irony is that music has been devalued at a time when there are more what that ever to promote it.”

Problem: this is an argument from fallacy, or an argument that assumes a plank is true in order to prove its conclusion.  His assumption: music has been devalued.

Brenden McBride was playing with his band Treasurefruit, so he arrived late to the shindig at McCaffery’s.  When asked about the modern state of music, he answered almost immediately:

“You don’t get there without Spotify.  Sure, you have to reach out on Facebook and other forms of social media, but there is simply too much competition to not have quality content.”

Wyves are releasing the follow up album to Spoils of War this summer.  If you do not already own this album, it is an absolute MUST for Rock n’ Roll fans – Get the album HERE !!!! Dude… 12 bucks ??!! You can work an hour for THIS!  While you are at it, click the album cover, and listen to it’s first single: “Puppycat”.

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I have incredibly high hopes for this band, but the point is – who will be these next “mid level” or higher bands?  The greats are all aging; who will replace them?  Wyves… New ChumsJane n the Jungle: these are the bands that are bringing the passion back to music, and these are the bands that will rise in that Echelon of Musical Power.  Perhaps Gerber is right on one level: the high-end-money-making-scam of the modern music industry is being forced to Change or Die, and that is certainly not a BAD thing.

 

THE INDIE ANSWER

Wyves describe themselves as “Unapologetic Rock n Roll”, and of course, that in and of itself, begs a question.  Corey finished his first set, and came over to my table.  “How are you bud?  I’m sorry we gotta do this in shifts during a gig.”  This of course is to be expected from a hard working independent music artist – you gotta work.  So, not wanting to waste the opportunities that he could take a break, I asked the obvious ice breaker:

“What is unapologetic rock n roll?”

Something in the late night air, the din of the bar, and the low lighting mostly disguised Corey’s momentary look of panic.  “Shit man, I don’t know,” the front-man laughed.  I was prepared, as I had googled the term earlier, and simply jotted down some of the “Image Search” list.

I laughed, “Would you like to hear what Google has to show?” and I began to read the list:

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As I started the list, Corey almost blushed…. not really, just almost.  He smiled and laughed, “Really?”  When I got to his band’s name he interjected again, “Seriously, we’re on there?” By the time I ended the list he was nodding, and obviously pleased with the company.

Evan Knisely came in during the early moments of the list of Rock Unapologetics.  He didn’t lose a beat, slipping right into the conversation.

“One might argue that it wasn’t the right time to do an old school, throw back, rock n roll sound; we disagree, but it doesn’t really matter.  We write what we want to write, and play what we want to play.  There isn’t enough of this going on in music.”

There is simply something of a disconnect going on between the failing of the music industry, and the passion that practically bleeds from Wyves when they play.  They bring the party each and every time out of the gate: if you go to a Wyves show, you know they are going to show up.  Their fans are passionate, and their talent is obvious, so obviously the industry at large does not have its ear low enough to the ground.

Alison Wenham, CEO of the UK’s Association for Independent Music wrote her article, “Independent Music is a Growing Force in the Global Market” in July 2015.

“The power dynamics between the major record companies and the independent music sector, and with artists, are changing.  The major record companies, it seemed, held all the cards and could manipulate and orchestrate the marketplace to do whatever they wanted. Until now.”

Nowhere is this changing fact more pronounced and obvious than “the confirmation by Apple that independent music is fundamental to its brand.  This acknowledgement is seismic”, continues Wenham.

Rich Bengloff, of the American Association of Independent Music, explains this trend in digital sales, as reported by Claire Atkinson in her article “Indie Artists are New No. 1 in Music Industry” for the New York Post.

“Bengloff believes the availability and popularity of music streaming — which grew by 24 percent in the first half of 2013, while digital sales slipped 4.6 percent in the period, its first-ever decline — is exactly why artists are opting for indie status and why their power is growing.”

Coupled with this fact, Atkinson reports that Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora, “has been wooing the independents. Songs from outside the major labels make up 50 percent of the content streamed on the 14-year-old service. On broadcast radio, it’s 13 percent.  Independents are supportive of Pandora because it’s a level playing field, not a walled garden, says Westergren.”

This disconnect, between the failings of the old music business model and the stubborn refusal of big business to acknowledge change, is based on one substantial fact: technology and the speed with which it changes is empowering one group more than any other.  Millennials.

The Millennial Consumer

One of the things that really impressed me as I as talking with Evan, was how close he was to simply watching trends.  I for one, have a tendency to be one of these counter-culture types that mocks just about every trend that we see hit social media and then all of a sudden take over the world.  I mock that all the time: everything from everyone in the world needing a beard to a dog as an accessory.  Come on; it is easy to mock!  But Evan, showed me an entire different side of it, and although he didn’t label it as such, Evan Knisely was explaining liquid attention.

While discussing unapologetic rock n roll, and Wyves’ desire to make exactly the kind of music that they wanted to, Evan made an a very interesting observation:

“Besides, everything is throw back right now.  Everything is vintage.  Vinal is back!  Look at the number of Nirvana shirts, Gun n Roses shirts, Johnny Cash shirts on people you can never imagining listening to Johnny Cash.  Even in fashion, the designs, the styles, everything is sending this vibe to a better time, like a throwback resurgence.  So in that respect, there has never been a better time for Wyves.”

He’s right…. absolutely…. BUT….

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Huge thank you to JOHN RIGGS for the use of one of his images.

I hesitate to say it – but in a previous era, following trends and courting brands was only referred to in one way: selling out.  In this respect, Gerber was also correct:  ”

“Because of this, musicians have had to adjust. Some have begun to focus their efforts on brand building.  Megastars like Beyonce and Lady Gaga, and Michael Jackson before them, have always done this, pushing everything from soft drinks to clothing to fragrances. But more and more, musicians from across the spectrum are pursuing this path to prosper. One good example is Gary Clark Jr., a talented artist but hardly a household name who has endorsement deals with Lincoln and John Varvatos. In the past, purists probably would have called him a “sell out.” Now, it’s called getting paid.”

Returning to Mr. Gerber: it is not that he is absolutely wrong, it is that he is not labeling it correctly.  His article, which has garnished quite a bit of attention in the last couple of weeks, is a good one, and it does take a hard business look at the music industry.  But it misses when it comes to showing the EXCITEMENT of that change.  Rather, Ross focuses on the ENTROPY of it.

“The old music industry is dead.  We’re standing in the ruins of a business built on private jets, Cristal, $18 CDs and million-dollar recording budgets.  We’re in the midst of the greatest music industry disruption of the past 100 years. A fundamental shift has occurred — a shift that Millennials are driving.  This is the reality of the new music industry, which is built off of liquid attention, not record sales. – Writes Thomas Honeyman of Elite Daily.”

What Honeyman is able to capture in his article, How One Generation Was Single-Handedly Able To Kill The Music Industry, that Gerber misses is the actual breakdown of how the new model – the new superstars – the new Grassroots Greats…. are being made.  You see this is the thing, when we are young, and following our bands, and full of piss and vinegar and unfounded ideals, judging our roll models is very easy to do.  When one is having to pay the bills, and wants to do so by LIVING and doing what they LOVE… perspectives and definitions change.  Read Honeyman’s article…. it is great, and I am not going to simply repeat it here.  In short, he and Evan mimic each other; after all, great minds think alike.  In a nutshell:

“The new music business model is based on four inherent things.  First: Demand.  Just like any other business, it follows cash.  A new generation of artists has hit the scene and they thrive on attention rather than units of music they sell.  The attention has become just as valuable as our likelihood to purchase, as it leads to festival and performance attendance. What brands understand is that music is an important part of Millennials’ identity. It’s more than entertainment for us. The music we listen to can be as important as how we dress and influences who our friends are. – Honeyman”

Ross Gerber makes one horrible assumption right out of the gate, but, he does write for Forbes so perhaps it should be expected, and that assumption is that the new generations have DEVALUED music.  As you can see; that is 100% false.  In many ways music is being valued more than it ever has been, it is simply that the way that value translates is shifting faster than business can keep up.  This does nothing but empower the independent artist.

Which leads to the second plank of the model which is supply.  Supply has never been easier or more affordable.  “All that’s required to make a modern record is a computer and a piece of affordable recording software. Technology is cheap and high-quality learning resources are free. As the result, artists have massively successful records without having set foot in a recording studio,” Honeyman explains.

It should be noted, that what I am seeing here in Phoenix is not so much a refusal to use recording studios: it is more that there are a bunch of really awesome Independent Options to record music without having to have an agent or a label.  Check out Flying Blanket if you get a chance Or STEM Recording with Curtis Grippe or 80/20 Records.

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Keep in mind that the Forbes article blames Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, and other streaming services for what it calls the death of the music industry.  As Brenden McBride explained, “You don’t get anywhere without Spotify”.  The new business model is being missed, the third plank of which is discovery.

“Music discovery is at an all-time high.  Platforms like SoundCloud have more than 250 million active users each month and Millennials discover their music predominately through these digital platforms. Incidentally, when digital natives produce new music, they release it first on the digital platforms.  This is how Millennials are playing both sides of the field: They’re creating more music than ever and releasing it onto platforms where their peers go to discover music. – Honeyman”

What is happening is a grassroots takeover of music.  The middle players: agents and labels have been not so much completely replaced, but changed, into a conversation.  Trends.  Likes.  Shares.  Views.  Clicks.  These are the new currency.

This hyper connection that is possible in social media can be nerve racking.  If it is used improperly, it can simply make the entire world wish that it had a pause button… or a mute.  But used with an agenda, it is insanely powerful and leads directly to the fourth and final plank of the new model: Team Building.

“Production teams are one of the main drivers that keep the superstar artists on top. Working in teams allows these writers to churn out tons of highly listenable pop tracks.  Now, Millennials are breaking down this final barrier, too.  Services like FindMySong are connecting independent musicians so they can form their own dominant songwriting and production teams.- Honeyman”

Viktor Koem, reporting for The Economist, writes, “Profits are too high.  America needs a giant dose of competition.”

Nowhere is that competition more obvious, raw, and vibrant than in Phoenix, Arizona!

 

 

 

Sticking it to the Man

I am a new writer to the Phoenix scene.  I am having a great time getting out, exploring, and writing – after all, that is what I love to do.  First hand, in less than two months, the explosion I have witnessed in my own brand – my own work – is almost mind boggling.  It is so fast; faster than I really ever dreamed possible.  Why?  Because of the model described above.  Because of networking with other independent artists trying to do exactly what I am trying to do: reach a fan base, be exciting, and as Kody Dayish said, not get boring.

We are all verifiable proof that art on all levels IS NOT DEAD.  We are a combined force, a group of connected artists helping to promote each other, and work together for the betterment of our own endeavors.

Ross Gerber was right… the old business model is dead.

And one of the best things about it is that Music FEELS fun again.  The bands meet you, hang with you, enjoy a beer or two.  We are REAL PEOPLE.  Creating REAL ART.  For the REAL WORLD.  In ways that are more empowering to the individual than ever before.

PLAY ON!

“Corey was kind of coming on here in Phoenix at the tail end of the old guard greats: The Pistolleros, Dead Hot Workshop, Ghetto Cowgirl, Roger Clyne, Gin Blossoms.  There was this lull in the Phoenix music scene, but over the last few years, yes – there is a definite pulse going on in the Valley” Evan explained when I asked him if he could feel a real vibe in the Phoenix music scene.

“Oh yeah, man,” Brenden continued, “and it is diverse!  It is easily recognizable and you have this awesome, wide variety of really good music.  Bands like Banana Gun, Ruca, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, and Decker.  You just can’t go wrong now in the Phoenix music scene!  There are great artists all around in every genre.”

Wyves play next on May 20th opening for Banana Gun‘s NEW CD Release Party at Crescent Ballroom.  This will not be a show to miss PHOENIX.

GET OUT!

FEEL THE PULSE!

HIT THE IMAGE BELOW TO BUY TICKETS !!!!

Banana Release Party
Keep it Scary my Friends !!  Until next Time….. Peace.

Old Amigos by 3 AM

UPDATE !!!!

TONIGHT !!!! June 8, they play Alt 93.3 Local Homegrown Showcase at Pub Rock Live.  Two chances to get to know some new chums !

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At Pub Rock Live June 8

A Conversation with The New Chums

I’m sitting in the Yucca Tap Room, nursing a Lagunitas IPA, and reading Benjamin Leatherman’s article in the Phoenix New Times, “25 Legendary Tempe Music Venues: Then and Now”. Nina’s: Minder Binders: the Electric Ballroom; most of them are gone, but the Yucca is pretty much the same. There is a picture of The Refreshments performing back in 1996, and as I glance around the bar, my view settles on the wooden sign with black lettering advertising Roger Clyne’s Mexican Moonshine Tequila. Twenty one years went by in the space of that glance, and I realized that the Yucca was a time machine.

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Reading of the legendary Arizona Indie Music scene, sitting across the bar from P.C. looking at each other from time to time with a familiar nod – like a silent toast between members of a bygone cool kids club – my attention is pulled back as a new band, takes the stage beneath the back-lit sign of a Tempe icon. I am caught wondering if they even know who Roger Clyne is. Their fingers grace the strings, and their sticks slam the snares, and once again…. I am an ageless man, sitting in a shadowy bar, listening to the aspirations of another group of artists with big dreams.

As I lined up the bands that I wanted to feature on this new blog endeavor, this particular show was of special interest. The New Chums were playing again after a several month hiatus as they regrouped, and the Wyves, another band that had quickly gotten my attention previously when they opened for the Pistoleros (speaking of Tempe music legends) at The Crescent Ballroom. Tonight they were playing together. My plan was to focus on Wyves, giving the Chums a chance to play and grow together, before doing my interview and feature. Sometimes….. the best laid plans …

Then they debuted their new guitarist, Matt Lloyd, and their new Bassist, Cassandra Clark, and a new sound, a new vibe, a new energy. It was like hearing the Chums again for the first time… once again “new” Chums. So I made a decision to move the New Chums up on the slate. The Wyves are Great. Go See Them. They are next up on Keep The Greasy Side Down, but the energy of The Chums, debuting a completely new vibe… seemed like the #indie thing to do! So…. give me a few weeks, the Wyves are coming… and I promise, they are worth the wait!

In the meantime… why not make some New Friends?

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If you had asked me before to describe the New Chums, I would have put them along a spectrum between The Strokes and The Killers. Think that jingly jangly Johnny Marr vibe, that groovy dancy thing that The Smiths completely mastered back in Manchester, and then layer it along with those swanky guitar riffs – like on the song “Under Cover of Darkness”, and marry it with the lyrical depth of The Killers “When you were Young” and you start to catch the vibe of the New Chums.

I immediately liked the band, and quickly made friends with Seth and his mates. One of the things that I love about music, is that once people see the depth of appreciation and legitimate love you have for their craft, they enjoy talking to you. I am not a groupie…. or maybe I am, but one of the best kind. The kind that just wants to listen to your poetry, have you electrify me with your sound, wants to talk about music all night, and doesn’t even want to sleep with you or steal your drugs. It’s a beautiful thing. One of my first conversations with Seth, was when he asked me what I really thought of Tuolumne, the band’s first EP.  Here, combined with a really nice sit down chat with him at the next show, the soul of the New Chums began to come into focus.

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Have you ever had that thought, sitting there, watching some entertainment show or reading an article about one of your favorite icons, and you think, “Man, I would love to just sit and have coffee with this person.  We wouldn’t have to talk about business or their work or anything – we could just hang like old friends”?  This is what I want my articles/ interviews to read like, not so much a list of questions and answers, but more a conversation about a topic where the band takes the role as specialist and expert in terms of sourcing the article.  This is much more interesting.

When it comes to Seth Boyack, a friend immediately realizes that they have sat down with an artist, a poet, an introverted wordsmith, and the juxtaposition that takes place between an artist among artists and their desire to sell their band to the masses is very interesting.

“My brother was just a bit older than me, and I grew up listening to all of his music.  Bands like The Smiths and New Order formed the early inspirations for myself as a songwriter.  I can play guitar, but I am not a great guitarist.  That is why I need Matt, but I see myself as a songwriter bringing my ideas and a melody to my band to help me flesh them out. “

 

Seth Boyack relocated to Phoenix after growing up in Tuolumne County, California, and via Craiglist formed the nucleus of New Chums with his drummer Ben Hedlund, who himself relocated to the Valley of the Sun from Boston, Mass.  In fact, if you can indulge the old-school guy, one more time, the relationship between these two reminds me very much of the camaraderie between Roger Clyne and PH Naffah,*** a song-man and a drummer, forming the bright-line that goes through changes and decades. Obviously, New Chums have a long way to go before they take a ride through that Yucca Taproom Time Machine, but the comparison is one that gives a music fan a world of hope.

But, dear reader, as I am apt to do and you are apt to forgive, you have allowed me to digress.  Tuolumne.  First, it is  a great album {click on the album picture above, follow the link, TOTALLY GUILT FREE FIVE BUCKS).  Second, lyrically, the poetry created here is very reminiscent of the lyrical themes one finds in those old Smiths albums.  The imagery and emotions of a young, introspective lad growing up, asking questions, and trying to figure out the answers to life – whether in questioning authority in “For the Cause” or musing with the poets in “Cemetery Gates” – whether in prowling the open spaces around Yosemite or the industrial sprawl of Manchester – is a welcome and refreshing connection in a world of music that is often critiqued as losing much of its soul.  Thirdly, however, although Tuolumne is a solid first EP offering, it does not even begin to show the force and energy the Chums have when they play live.  I told Seth that, but I followed it up immediately with, “But, that’s a good thing man.  Think about it, we have all been to shows where you may as well have just listened to the CD in the parking lot.  The artist brought nothing new or original to the live experience, and that sucks.”.  He nodded, but the poet in him looked perplexed.  Let me put it to you this way, Seth is just the artist to figure out how to channel that “live” vibe into a CD!  The Chums are back in the studio this summer, this time recording with Flying Blanket Recording, and I fully expect this dialog to be one of the top areas of concerns for the introspective and quiet lead-man.

To understand why this is such a quintessential issue for the New Chums, it is important to look at the two basic ways that an indie act tries to attract fans.  There is the school of thought that says you have to take over the market.  You need to become a staple, a household name, so you try to put yourself out there every chance you get.  The other school of thought is that as an independent, chances are you still have a day job.  Additionally, you may have a family or school obligations.  So marketing yourself becomes more about making the largest bang for your buck each and every time you do put yourself out there, not necessary trying to jump on every single opportunity.

One’s place on this spectrum says a lot about that individual as an artist.  “When it comes to success then, what is your threshold for compromise?”

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to trying to bringing the best of what we have to offer to a show or to a project.  When you are mixing life, and family, and work, and responsibilities, as well as your personal hopes and dreams – you want each trip out of the gate to be right.  I am constantly concerned with how we sound.  It is more important to me to be in the right place, on the right night, and nail it – sonically – so that people at the bar are asking, hey – who are these guys again?  I have a tendency to think of each show as a chance to make that impression with somebody who may never cross your path again – so I want it to sound good.  I don’t want it to be the tail end of a moment, buried at the end of a commercial break, or a song on your CD that just doesn’t capture the magic that you know that song is capable of, so it is instantly forgettable.”

What is awesome, is that with the addition of Cassandra and Matt, the Chums take a massive leap forward in their evolution.  Cassandra instantly reminded me of one of my favorite bassists, Simon Gallup of The Cure.  She can lay down a mean bass line, that is no question, but what is awesome about great bassists is when they seamlessly provide this foundation for everyone else to build on, but they do it in a way where you almost don’t even notice.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the bass guitar is one of the most overlooked aspects of music, because of this.  Cassandra has a connection with her band mates, she is the pulse under their shenanigans, and she is having fun enjoying herself – and it is obvious.

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A lead guitarist, however, is not quite the same thing.  Matt’s addition to the band is in no way subtle, and I asked him about his first listen of Tuolumne.

“When I first heard the EP, I thought Seth was a great songwriter and that they really had something special going on.  However, when listening, it did seem like there was a a lot of open space for more guitar parts to come into play.  As I got talking with Seth and Ben, I found out that this was because they were without a second guitarist when recording the album.”

This realization takes us back to that conversation with Seth about Tuolumne not capturing the energy of their live shows.  And frankly, after seeing the New Chums live, both times that they have played with this new lineup, I cannot wait to see what we have in store when the Chums team up with Flying Blanket.  This excitement is only heightened when one really gets a feel at how organic the Chums are when it comes to writing songs.

“I trust their opinions,” Seth told me.  “If there is ever a disagreement about the creative direction of a song, I have every confidence with Ben, Matt and Cassie that it is for the betterment of the song.”

“All of the songs have been fun to dive into and re-imagine”, Matt continued.  “Seth and Ben have been great, and I am thankful to be working with them.  My style as a guitar player has always been to try and write guitar parts that people can hum along with and that can get stuck in your head just like a vocal hook would.  I’ve learned over the years that there will always be better guitar players out there, but they can’t all do that – write a riff that is hummable and fun to remember.”

These New Chums have played live two times.  The growth just between the two shows at the Yucca Taproom in April was astounding.  Seth looks more at ease than I have ever seen him on stage.  He is laughing, and smiling, and having a great time.  The synergy between the band mates has elevated all of them to new levels of distinction in their craft.

Do yourself a favor, and this Cinco de Mayo… get to PUB ROCK LIVE in Scottsdale, and watch these NEW CHUMS open for a national touring band The Weeks !  There is nowhere else you really ought to be – if you love solid live music.


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Get Your Tickets HERE !

Tell ’em The Ghost Rider sent you.

 

Next Up:  WYVES !!!

Keep the Greasy Side Down, my friends.

 

A Quest of Vision

UPDATE !!!

Kody Dayish will be featured in the upcoming edition of Native Hoop Inc/Magazine with writer Cynthia Glasses.  Hit the link to get the latest on what is upcoming from Kody Dayish Productions!

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A New Era in Film with Director Kody Dayish

“You will suffer.”

“This is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

“But, Shi yahzi (my son), why do you want to do this? The dark spirits will dance around you for daring to watch them so closely.”

“I feel that I must do this, Shi Cheii (my Grandfather). It’s not for entertainment. It’s not for the fun of it, or for the thrill of it, nor is it to simply profit by making a scary film. It is for ownership. It is for pride. Sir, this is for our People.  This is for the Dine’.”

“This can be something that brings the People back to who they are. This can reach those who wander, the children, the lost, and help them to believe. The dark dance is something that is already happening. It is already here. It is everywhere we look.” – Kody Dayish

The Medicine Man nodded, a grave nod that seemed to acknowledge the martyrdom of the man’s quest. “You do your People a great honor, and you put yourself at great risk. This is the true path.”

And now, Kody was holding true to that oath even as he filmed the last bit of footage by drone flying low and fast, across spring green on the desert, towards the towering ship on the ocean of sand.  The Red Hogaan was complete, a true Skinwalker Film had been made, but this time by a Navajo director.  He had been as true to custom as tradition demanded.  He had represented his culture with dignity, reverence, and honesty.  We have all seen the other stories…. the outsider stories…. the Navajo werewolf stories….

But this One is OURS.

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An Early Production Poster (Hogaan is spelled with 2 a’s, and was later fixed in production stills)

Kody Dayish Productions started with a fierce desire to make an impact coupled with the known reality that enthusiasm is contagious – but fades. “You get boring”, Kody told me over the phone as we discussed the details of this press release. I was immediately struck by the unapologetic bluntness of his phrase. The last thing an artist wants to admit, is that they do indeed get boring. Look at the number of great acts who have tried to harness that limelight for too long; ending up tainting even the best of times on that stage. So I guess, really, what struck me was not so much the honesty of the comment, but the fact that one so young had already discovered it, and who not only embraced it, but wasn’t scared of it.  This leads to passion.  It leads to drive.  It fuels inspiration.  When these elements combine in an artist – greatness is within his grasp, and daring to chase it – to harness it!  This is the quest.

“It was about setting a goal to actually do something” Kody continued. “Two years seemed more than enough time to hit it, hit it hard, and have something to show for it.  More time than that simply allows excuses.”  So the three siblings: Kody, Kolette, and Kolin formed Kody Dayish Productions with an explicit, personal two year contract taken out with each other setting the length of time of their partnership. As an artist I understand the necessary, but daunting relationship one has with their deadlines – in comparison, the intensity and driven focus on success, with a self imposed deadline, taken on by Kody and Krew is impressive, to say the least.

April 2017 marked the half way point of that contract, and it is time you got to know Filmaker Kody Dayish.

“It is easy for people to think that I was lucky to be in this position, like I was born into it, or happened upon it.” I found it interesting to be having a discussion about privilege with a Native American. Discussions have erupted across all forms of media over the last year or two, when it comes to White Privilege, and I am certainly not going to argue that it does not exist. I do however appreciate the fact that a discussion of privilege can be had between people of different race, culture, and history: especially when that discussion can bridge those differences rather than reinforce them.

THE RED HOGAAN TRAILER # 1

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View Trailer HERE

The world all around us is becoming more competitive. There are a lot of individuals out there doing really cool things, and most of us would do anything we could to give our kids the best chance at success. My wife and I looked into putting our son in Ice Hockey Club, as there is no little league, or park league for hockey in Arizona. It would have amounted to the tune of several of thousand dollars a year. Club football, club baseball (because Little League is not enough if you want a kid in the Majors), club hockey, club soccer, all of these are ways to give your children the greatest advantage at a life of fame: think about it.

All of those kids, involved in all of those activities, are benefiting directly from being winners of a genetic lottery ticket. Already, those kids have a leg up on your kids, because the parents had the resources and forethought to get their kids involved.

But the last thing we see on ESPN or NFL network when they do A Football Life or any of those other type of shows, is a documentary about privilege. Instead, we see a documentary about hard work, hard knocks, and hard lives.

The Red Hogaan Trailer # 2

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View Trailer HERE !

Thomas Grey wrote as a meditation in a country churchyard that many of us are born to blush unseen, never having our talents noticed by the rest of the people we share the world with. All flowers are beautiful, but some grow in places they are never going to be photographed. John Donne said that no man is an island, that we are all interconnected and that we glean strength and edification from each other.

Fannie Dayish was no different. As a mother, Fannie empowered her children, starting with her eldest, Kody. From his early years: being involved in baby pageants, playing guitar and singing in parades, visiting Los Angeles for photo shoots, working at modeling gigs as far east as Tennessee.

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Kody Dayish, three, at the Navajo Nation Parade

Fannie taught her children the value of hard work, dedication, and a love of their culture and people from an early age. These lessons are obvious in a trio of siblings that are motivated as highly as they are about using their talents to empower the Native youth around them.

Is this not the American Dream? Is this not what all of us as parents, or future parents, want to be able to do? Isn’t this concept the very motivation behind things like ‘college funds’?

In the end, one can only buy so much. In the end, one can only lead the horse to water so many times. There is nothing in the contexts of privilege that deals with the idea of forcing the individual to do something with that opportunity. No amount of coaxing or throwing money around can completely replace the need for talent and personal commitment. We have all heard the stories or seen the movies of spoiled little rich kids that go off to school and never have to worry about anything because they are going to simply inherit their lives from their parents anyway. That is not what we are discussing when it comes to Kody Dayish and his siblings. We are discussing a trio of people who see themselves as blessed to be able to put themselves in a position to give back to their People, or to politely use the Navajo term: back to the Dine’.

Fannie Dayish chose to give her children the best advantage that she could in a world full of uncertainty. One does not need to look very deep to see the poverty on our Native reservations. One does not need to look very deep to see the statistics of inner city schools. In fact, living here in Mesa, I see families choose to take advantage of open enrollment policies all over the place: willingly choosing to drive for miles simply to have some degree of control over who influences their children. I have yet to see the pages of the Education section of a newspaper overflowing with articles about all of the white people selling out their own people or capitalizing on their privilege. It is simply seen as normal.

But when Fannie Dayish made a similar decision, choosing to get her children into a private schooling system that would give them every possibility of success – she traded a better education for a sense of cultural inclusion. Kody Dayish came back to Shiprock High School on the Navajo Nation seen as an outsider: as a person who saw themselves as too good, too high and mighty, too special for the Rez. And here, in the developmental petri-dish of adolescence – Kody entered the crucible.

Merriem Webster defines ‘crucible’ as follows: 1. a vessel of a very refractory material (such as porcelain) used for melting a substance that requires a high degree of heat. 2. a severe test: He’s ready to face the crucible of the Olympics. 3. A place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development: He was conditioned by having grown up within the crucible of war.

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When a person goes through trying, difficult times: and voices them, using them as justifications or rationalizations, it can be tempting to pause and question those motivations. Doing so is fair, and the answer to that questioning – when it comes to Kody Dayish as an artist of vision – is that the crucible can crush the strongest of people. The heat and hurt and pain that comes with those trials can fragment the most vivid of dreams. The scalding torment can twist a person, filling what was once bright and lucid with the darkest and most poisonous of venoms. Or one can come forth from that inferno folded and melted down and re-folded into the sharpest of blades. One can emerge from that inferno more focused, with more hardened steel of purpose, than they ever had before.

 

Kody brought that sense of dedication, that sense of purpose, and that sense of love back to the Navajo Nation. It was tested in the trials that happen beyond the watchful eyes of loved ones: in a world of conflict and continual measuring where children practice all of the cruelties they have seen. That reality did not dampen his resolve to want to turn his life into something that could help and inspire. The fact that he had to win over the respect of the people he wanted to ultimately inspire speaks volumes. It speaks to his tenacity. It speaks to his honesty. It speaks to his vulnerability. It speaks to his clarity of sound and vision.

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Navajo Times Newspaper

Kody Dayish is the artist that he is because of the Crucible of his experience. Giving something back to the Dine’ is his purpose. His body of work is the proof in his resolve. The Red Hogaan is the epoch of that vision as a filmmaker. Winning the awards that he has won, has not given Kody an easy pass. On the contrary, they have set the bar of standards even higher for what he was expected to accomplish. Kody Dayish Productions is the testament to that accomplishment. Late last year, Mike Easterling wrote an article about the Dayish siblings and the company they put together with a two year personal contract to provide a goal for their endeavors. Follow the link, and read the FULL STORY HERE.

THE BEGINNING

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“The Beginning” was the first undertaking by Kody Dayish Productions, and was meant to serve as a “blessing” on their endeavor.    The film is based on a song called “Generation Hand Down” from the 1996 album Etsi Shon from Canadian artist Jerry Alfred.

DEAD OAKS: PART I & Novelties

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As their second project, the Dayish siblings tackled the song “Dead Oaks” by the band NowNow out of Chicago.  Visit the band’s Facebook Page Here.  The film is a semi autobiographical depiction of a first date, and is meant to not only inspire youth to RESPECT each other, but to actually do the unthinkable….. and actually GO OUT ON A DATE.  Hook ups are over rated!  The production schedule on their particular project was cramped, so it was decided to do the film in two parts.  Expect news of the second part SOON!

THE RED HOGAAN

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If “The Beginning” was meant as a blessing on the Dayish’ endeavor, and Kody’s visit to his tribal Medicine Man was a continuation of that spiritual process, then all of that positive energy needed to come together in full force for the production of The Red Hogaan.  Kody spoke at length with DGO Magazine‘s Patty Templeton about skinwalkers, horror, and the need for blessing yourself and your crew on set – when trying to authentically portray one of the most taboo corners of Navajo Lore.  Read DGO’s full interview HERE.

OUR LAST CHANTS

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Currently, Kody and crew are spending a great deal of time on their musical side project.  The Red Hogaan is complete, and Kody is actively shopping the project, including setting up applications for several major film festivals this Fall.  In the mean time, one cannot stop a rolling stone with a purpose, and an artist Must Create!  Our Last Chants have started performing live in the Farmington and Shiprock, New Mexico area.  Look for the release of their Debut Album East very soon!  

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Give their single “Goodbye” a listen HERE !  AND THEN… find it on iTunes HERE !

Also, follow them on Facebook!  

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Tell em the Ghost Rider Sent Ya!

“Those of us on a spiritual path and more specifically on a Vision Quest believe that we are put on this earth for a special reason, but that reason is not always clear to us. We want to know what we need to accomplish in life for our highest benefit, and, in turn, the benefit of the world. The quest can reveal our life’s purpose, but it is an arduous journey into the core of our being that we should only embark upon with sincerity.” – Native Americans Online

Keep it Scary my Friends….

 

Ashes and Ghosts

I.  Anthropology 101: Revisited

Myth:   a noun (person, place, thing, or idea)

1. a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.

synonyms: folk tale, folk story, legend, tale, story, fable, saga, mythos, lore, folklore, mythology

2.  a widely held but false belief or idea.

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All human societies cling to their own individual belief systems, and from those foundations, rise their legends and myths and the heroes and monsters that populate them.  Whether we look to the Norse (with Thor and Odin, the All Father), or the Greeks (with Hercules, son of Zeus and a mortal human, slaying the Gorgon), or the Hebrews (with Moses guided by the Pillar of God), or the Mayans (with Hunab Ku once again throwing Camazotz into his cave of darkness), of the Christians (with Jesus walking on water), or with the Hopi (with their Kachina coming from the peaks of the holy mountain to live among the people in an ancient city), or to Americans (with Superman and Batman guiding a modern day host of Olympians)  –  all of them have empowered their own mythos.  Tolkien contrived the Lord of the Rings to function as a LIVING mythos, as he desperately felt, linguistically, that his homeland of Britain had been robbed of it’s deep past by the Norman invasion of 1066.  He succeeded. Stan Lee and Co did the same with Marvel, and Bob Kane and Co over at DC. We are surrounded, influenced, and motivated by myths. They live and breath and inspire all we do.  They fill the minds of our children with magic and inspiration as we teach them the stories of our ways.

II. Castles of Sameness

A problem arises however, when we stop to consider the definition of myth.  Beliefs form a perception, a lens through which to view and discern the world, and this formulates the backbone of that group’s reality and identity.  When we do hear the word myth, we have a tendency to define it under its second definition, as an idea that is lost in time, archaic, and ultimately not true as more than a story or a legend.

Why is this a problem? Because we are beings of wonder: gifted with intellect and the ability to rationalize the world of mystery surrounding us.  Our journeys through that great mystery, however, have divided us and set us against each other far more often than they have made us see that we are all travelers on the same mystical highway.  We surround ourselves with like-minded folks, live in communities with people that harmonize with our lives, and we begin to see the entirety of the universe through that one subjective experience.

What I am starting to learn the deeper I dig into these topics, is that there are far more similarities between our beliefs than not, and perhaps through education, fear and misunderstanding can be lessened.

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III. Understanding what you Know

As I was formulating my thoughts for this article, I posted a thought on Facebook about the line between spiritual/ sacred secrecy and cultural understanding.  Wade Crossman, a young man who was a star on my Speech & Debate team, and is now a teacher in the West Valley posted on my musing question:

“It makes me ponder the benefit of secrecy,” he wrote.  “Is it merely as a carrot to dangle in front of initiates? Is it a method of distinguishing elders? (Are those two things different?)  In our world today, I don’t know if there is much room for or interest in secrets. Even if something is supposed to be sacred, you have to educate the masses to help protect your sacred thing (as in the sentence, “The Keystone Pipeline is cutting through a sacred burial ground”) – keeping a sacred thing secret can’t protect it anymore.”

Another student, Brandon Woudenberg, another debater, who is now a lawyer standing up for rights and justice in courts of law, added to the discussion:
“The cut line usually comes in at a point where if a certain amount of information were made aware it doesn’t help you understand anything further substantively, it just allows you to disadvantage the process, or misconstrue it outside the control of its origin.”
Whoah! (Insert Keannu Reeves voice here!)  At one time I taught these kids something…. now, it is an example that everything comes back around.
Information and understanding are not necessarily synonymous, and this shows something that is very important in our ever changing world.  Are there really any secrets anymore?  What is really not available by asking Google the right questions?  Nothing.  You can find anything on the Internet from the recipe of a bomb to blow up a city block to the deep inner workings of a Masonic lodge.  What that wealth of information does not provide, is the context by which to understand and appreciate the knowledge that you unearth.

IV.  Ownership of Myth – an Interview with Kody Dayish

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Kody Dayish – Director THE RED HOGAAN

And so, armed with a brain full of curiosity and a bag full of clothes, notebooks, and pens, I set out of the first research trip of my new writing project: a book of stories rooted in the indigenous legends and myths of the Native Peoples of Arizona.  The basics of my plan was to head for the Navajo Nation, looking for the splendor of solitude and the muse of landscapes and history as I ruminated on how to write culturally authentic stories that did not first, white-wash their Native roots, or second, tread too roughly on sacred reverence.  It is a delicate balance, especially when one considers the deep origins of myth and sacred secrecy involved with some of these cultures.

I had built a contact through social media with a young man named Kody Dayish out of Shiprock, New Mexico.  Kody had just completed shooting his film, The Red Hogaan: the first film about the Navajo legend of the skinwalker made entirely by a Navajo production team.

My interview with Kody was so important because it broached the topic of: if we do not own our secrets and treat them with dignity, then others will take them, and be far less reverent.  In this information age there are no secrets. There are spoilers galore for everything from film plots to the Illuminati.

So… isn’t true education more valuable than the fictions of thieves?

I set out, armed with this sense of purpose, not to exploit the Native legends, but to try to learn and soak up as much as I could about them, to try to allow my mind to live in that space where another People’s myths are allowed to be as real and true and valid as my own.

Kody told me about the logistical and cultural difficulties of making a film about one of the most taboo subjects in Navajo lore.  The superstitious nature and the true fear of the dark spiritual energy around the concept of skinwalkers goes deep into the past of Navajo culture.  The differences between Native tribes are in many ways profound, but they are not necessarily immediately visible to an outsider.  For instance, the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache, are all Apachean People, distant cousins with many commonalities in their history, but only the Navajo have a particular aversion to death.  Death is a very taboo topic in general among the Navajo.  This taboo is not rooted so much in fear, as it is a profound belief in the world of spirit, where all return, and when the names of the dead are mentioned it pulls their spirit back from its eternal journey, holding it too close to the world that came before and not allowing the soul to progress.

It was from within this community, that Kody started to approach various businesses and financiers to produce his film.  He told me it was immediately obvious that this film would be a hard one to lock down funding for, as many Navajo people, no matter how supportive of the arts they were, could not allow themselves to get that close to such a dark spiritual topic.  It is an example of “speak of the devil and he shall appear”, or “if one looks too deeply into the Abyss, the Abyss also looks into you”.  Kody told me that this deep superstition, this dark faith, also plagued casting.  His original goal was to cast the film entirely with Navajo actors, but this proved impossible, as so many prospective actors would not even continue with the process once they were made aware of the subject matter.

Kody Dayish and his production team persevered however, and skillfully wove a spiritual and cultural dialog around his project.  First, he chose to keep the film firmly rooted in stories past down from his own grandparents, instead of those which have arisen from pop culture.  This time frame focus on the skinwalker stories coming off the reservation pre-1980 would allow him to avoid the over sensationalizing of Hollywood, which takes place almost immediately once they sink their teeth into anything.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, he approached his Tribal elders and asked for their support on his project.

“We approached the elders with a sense of questioning what power lied in secrecy versus the power that lies in knowledge.  We wanted to be sure that our People knew we were not trying to misrepresent our culture or just make a scary movie; we wanted to make sure that they understood that their was a maturity there.  We understand that we are dealing with a living, very integral part, of the our spiritual system.”

During production, prayers and ceremonies were conducted regularly, and a major ceremony was held at the start and end of production to ward the project from the attention of evil spirits.  This was done out of respect, and request, by the tribe, and the tribal members of the production team and cast.

Because of modern access to information, nothing would be sacred for long: nothing would be off limits.  Therefore, in that reality, one is forced simply to answer one question: who would you rather have ownership of your beliefs?  With this Kody adapted the tagline for his film:

We have heard your stories – But this one is OURS.

VIEW THE TRAILER HERE

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Kody Dayish is a Navajo filmmaker and musician from Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation.  He is well known through out the Nation for his work with public outreach and local filming and television/ video opportunities.  A young man who is motivated by a deep desire to “inspire our youth”, I look forward to working with Kody again as some of these projects come to fruition.  In the meantime – YOU CAN HELP !  The Red Hogaan has a very real chance of making it to one of the larger film festivals with a little positive word of mouth.

  1.  WATCH THE TRAILER

  2. WATCH IT AGAIN

  3. FORWARD IT

  4. 1000 views is a milestone for an #indie film.

My journey North through Navajo land was to simply be in these landscapes, discover local spins on legends, and find myself walking the same areas as a people much more ancient that I.  I am telling a Navajo story as part of my next collection.  It will take on the concept of skinwalkers, but I wanted my work to have a sense of connection to the land about it.  I want the story to feel like it is from within the mythos…. not about the mythos.

My journey led me to a strip of area completely dripping in this history.  It is a stretch following a canyon from Hovenweep National Monument, through Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, and eventually curling beneath the shadow of Sleeping Ute Mountain before emptying out into Cortez, Colorado.  Just south, the high desert stretches and Shiprock rises off the horizon. The locals in the Four Corners area know it as Skinwalker Alley.

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There is small byway that connects Aneth, Utah and Cortez, Colorado.  This road takes you along the ancient highway between Hovenweep Pueblo and the Mesa Verde.  Hundreds of years ago this was an area controlled by the southern Paiute, who revered the mountain as a sacred place,a place where Gaia herself slept, and would one day rise like a titan to defend the People.  Scattered all around the Sleeping Ute Woman are the ruins of a lost civilization, feared as places of dark spirit by the Navajo to the south.  In Navajo legend, the path of a skinwalker is one of dark magic, which takes a once spiritual person on a journey along the Witchery Way.  One allows their soul to be consumed with powers of dark spirit it exchange for power.  The Navajo see the Skinwalker as a lost shaman, an unholy witch, a being of vengeance, a person who has looked too deeply into the world of dark spirit, and followed a very evil road.

Nowadays this road will take you past breathtaking scenery.  It will take you past Battle Rock, where ironically no battle was fought, but a mass suicide took place.  It will take you by lost caves and twisting red canyons, where even the locals today do not like to drive after dark and the high school kids still have rites of passage designed to test your metal.  People have seen strange things here.  Unexplainable noises.  Strange messages left in bones dropped down chimneys.  Men running into bottleneck canyons and only a coyote or a crow ever coming out.  There are some that swear they have taken shots at Coyote Jack, a local boogeyman/ skinwalker who it is said can’t be killed.

I rode through, and I stopped to take my pictures.  I felt a massive depth and weight of history.  It is a place of twisty roads, long drop offs, no guard rails, and a deeply superstitious past.  I never felt scared, or in a place I ought not be, but… I didn’t drive through at night either.

Reader beware.

V. Cultural Priorities

Further to the south, another people have a completely different historical connection to the Ancient Ones (the term Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning ancient ones or ancient enemy.  This meaning in and of itself shows a massive difference culturally between these two tribes: one revers its ancient past while the other fears and despises it).  Hopi land is not necessarily a place anybody would ever go, unless it was their destination.  It is a small circle of land completely encapsulated by the Navajo Nation.  Simply this geography is fascinating, when one knows some of the indigenous history of the area.

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I arrived at First Mesa, looking over the modern Hopi town of Polacca by mid morning.  My friend, and fellow rider, Jason and I had left his place in Winslow, Arizona on our bikes and followed Highway 87 North into Hopi Land.  Here the 87 ends and one either travels west on Highway 264 to Tuba City or east towards Canyon de Chelley.  In other words, unless one is specifically traveling to the Hopi Mesas, there are much faster ways to get to your destination.  The result?

Isolation.  Independence.  A complete sense of removal from the modern world. I have never felt more like I was on a distinctly different sovereign country than on ancestral Hopi land.  It does not even feel right calling it a reservation, as the Hopi never signed a treaty with the United States government and were never relocated.  They have lived here – and only here – for at least 600 years.  This is the only place their culture, both physical and spiritual, exists in the entire world.  If you leave these hallowed and ancient cities on the mesas – you may as well have blasted off to outer space.

I followed the signs through the twisty little town, barely able to keep my eyes from the ancient ruins towering 300 feet above me on the ledge of the cliff face.  It is stunning, to actually be there, looking up.  It is easy to see why the Hopi were never conquered by the Spanish, by the Navajo, by the whites – they lived in ancient skyscrapers by comparison, out of reach of any temporal enemies but within constant sight of the distant San Fransisco Peaks: the sacred homeland of their Gods – the Katsinim (Kachinas).

Next to the Pollaca Post Office is a tourism office.  I would recommend calling first, and making an appointment.  The Hopi have many ceremonies throughout the year, and these ceremonies are at all times and on various days.  The Mesa is closed during ceremonies as they are closed to the public.  The images I provided above are mostly from visits to First and Second Mesa circa 1910 and 1912.  These are not ceremonies or images you would be able to access now.

I paid my entrance fee to enter the ancient village of Walpi at the tourism office, a fee of $20, and this may seem steep, but I assure you.  This place is Sacred in a very real way to the Hopi, and the tribe keep a security guard on the mesa at all times to protect against theft and vandalism.  Unfortunately, we do not live in a time when most of our fellow humans can be trusted to do the right thing without being forced.  Twenty dollars is a small price to pay for the hospitality and cultural benefit we are able to receive by being allowed to actually see and experience this place in our Arizona history.

Most of the visit was what you would expect.  You must not take photos, so your cell phones are off, and as you walk through the ancient homes, all of which are in different stages of renovation because this is a LIVING PUEBLO.  Our guide, as I toured Walpi with a Frenchman named Gregory – super cool dude by the way – took us by her own home, a small pueblo on the North face of the cliff.  “This is mine,” she said.  “I inherited it from my grandmother, as Hopi culture is maternal, power being handed down from Mother to Daughter.”  Her eyes were reverent, and it is impossible to overstate the sense of spiritual connection one has here.  I cannot image lighting fires among the ceremonial ashes of my ancestors fires, dancing in the footprints of my ancestors steps, and sleeping among the ghosts and spirits of my entire ancestral past.  Every single day.  It would be like living in a different dimension of spirit that I simply do not have the cultural history to begin to understand.

When we moved around the tip of the Mesa, looking out to the west and seeing the snow covered San Francisco Peaks and imagining a spiritual pathway, not unlike Bifrost Bridge in Asgard, that allowed the Kachinas to make their yearly pilgrimage to live among the People.  It was here that we came to the pueblo sitting on the ledge at the extreme southern tip of the mesa.  Here our guide’s eyes got a bit darker, “This home had to be vacated, as its owners converted to Christianity.”  It was almost like it pained her a bit to say the word, and I got a very real sense that losing a community member, when your numbers are already so small – must seem like no small thing to the Hopi.

My guide was a wonderful and beautiful Hopi woman.  She was proud, and fierce, and I was struck very much by her strength of spirit.  Towards the end of the tour she shared a story with me, which will become the backbone of my own short story centered around the Hopi.  “Many people think that our children are not good at school”, she started.  “But they are.  We have good schools, and our children earn scholarships.  Many of them try to go to NAU (Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff), but they end up leaving, dropping out, and coming home.  This is not because they cannot do the work, or that they are not smart enough, but it is a matter that they simply cannot be at peace that far away from the spiritual ceremonies they know are taking place.  Someone must always be here.  Each owner must open their doors and windows.”

The Hopi are a people of spirit.  And that spirit lives and breathes and moves through them in just as real of a way as the spirit of your own deity moves through you.  That is the point.  That is why myth matters.  These matters of the spirit….. in most cultures…. matter more than anything else.

VI.  Us &Them

In my time researching and outlining this new project: between looking into various legends of the tribes and settling in on which ones I wanted to focus on, my travels on the Internet had taken me to a blog called the Native Skeptic.  The blog is written by an Apache named Noah Nez, from Whiteriver, AZ, whom I had friend requested some weeks previously.  Returning to the Facebook question from earlier, Noah also weighed in with his perspective,

“I am not sure how much knowing the beliefs behind the Black Snake {Ceremony} and Standing Rock would help others to sympathize. To me, Native American religions are not respected as religions like the other major ones.”

That is all he had to say, but that idea being expressed from a Native American was one I simply had to know more about.Needless to say, Noah and I had a ton load of things to talk about, but our dialog centered around two basic ideas.  The first was that just looking at recent news articles would prove the disconnect that takes place with most Americans when discussing spiritual matters.  Noah give me two examples: the Dakota Pipeline and The Jewish Headstones.

“Whether or not more education about the Sioux would have changed the Dakota Access Pipeline issue, ” Noah said, “doesn’t really matter.  All one has to see is that even after people found out they were going through an ancient burial ground with dead bodies, they didn’t see it the same as if we were going through the Veterans Cemetery.  Simply put it is just obvious that the beliefs of Native Americans do not matter as much.”

That is very simple, but he is not wrong.  We would not even begin to entertain the notion of going through our national cemeteries, regardless of the amount of education that had or had not taken place.

“This fact is painfully obvious, when the Trump administration, plagued with allegations of inciting racial divides, sent VP Pence to help clean up the Jewish Cemetery that was vandalized.  No such government action was done for the Sioux…. unless you count military action against them.”

Again, it is hard to argue with Noah’s examples.

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The second issue causing this lack of spiritual understanding specifically with Native religions lies in their ability to have coexisting beliefs and coexisting spiritual and temporal ceremonies.  Noah again gave me two examples.  The first is of a Native family that has converted to Christianity.  “That family may very much believe in their new Christian beliefs, but that does not mean they stop practicing their traditional ones.  These belief systems coexist.”  His second example was about the actual ceremonial dances, as many tribes have a sport version and a ceremonial one. I asked him about the reverence perceived by others if these sacred prayer rituals were seen more as entertainment events, to which Noah responded, “Many of these are performing artists, competing in Native Dance at competitions.  In that context they are not actually profaning the purpose of the dances, but the significance of that difference would usually be lost on a largely Anglo audience.”

VII.  Sacred Duty

In the end, I packed up from my Father’s place in Cortez, Co and set my sights on home.  I descended from the high plateaus and as I approached I-40 south of Ganado, AZ, and began the only 45 minutes of my entire trip that was on an Interstate, I found myself thinking, perhaps more so than I ever had before that I was leaving one Nation and entering another.  When I started out on this idea, and I was expressing my ideas with my friend Royce Gildersleeve, who has a PhD in Native American History, he told me to tread carefully.  This article begins to show the process of why cultural education matters, and Royce was correct.

The purpose of this project is not to steal a People’s stories, but to craft new stories that draw readers back to a  People.

Keep the Greasy Side Down.

Next… The Ghost Rider Interview with NEW CHUMS !!!!